Archive for April, 2009

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The Art Of Making An Awesome Mix CD

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Nothing is awesomer than an amazing mix CD.  And I came up with an awesome one. At least, for me, it’s awesome. I think it’s an extension of my psyche, and anyone who is just like me should love it too!

Almost all, coincidentally, come from bands I’ve reviewed for my blog, in some form or another.  Of course, it’s not perfect (there’s no such thing as a perfect mix CD – Johnny Banks of Iowa claimed to have made one in 1978, but before it could be heard, it was tragically eaten by his pigs.)

Here is my mix, and beneath the track listing, I will explain why it’s so awesome.

1. “The Bandit” -The Starlight Mints
2. “Triple Fascination” – The Listening
3. “Lazarus” – Porcupine Tree
4. “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes” – Modest Mouse
5. “Here Comes Your Man” – Pixies
6. “So Real” – Jeff Buckley
7. “Flint (For the Unemployed and Underpaid)” – Sufjan Stevens
8. “A Lack of Color” – Death Cab for Cutie
9. “Roads” – Portishead
10. “Untiled” – Sigur Rós
11. “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” – Radiohead
12. “Mexico” – Incubus
13. “Jesus, Etc.” – Wilco
14. “Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity” – Gustav Holst

Now, I will go into the logic behind making a mix CD. Here are some of the basic rules:

1. The mix CD can never stop or end with a lead track or closing track from an album. For example, I could not start this mix CD with “Airbag” off Radiohead’s OK Computer, since that is the lead track from that album. Likewise, I cannot end it with Sonic Youth’s “The Trilogy” off Daydream Nation, since that album ends with that track. Otherwise, it just feels like your listening to that particular album, thus defeating the purpose of a mix CD.

Notice, then, with my track selection, I chose my lead song to be “The Bandit” by the Starlight Mints, which is track two off their album The Dream That Stuff Was Made Of. This was an awesome choice because the song is upbeat and gives energy, enticing the listener to listen further. Only in the rarest of circumstances do you start a mix CD with a slow, soft, or track that’s a downer, but we’ll get to that later.

In a similar vein, I chose my closing track to be “Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity,” by Gustav Holst from his Planets suite. This was a wise choice, because “Jupiter” is in the middle of the suite, yet the piece can also stand on its own. Also, being so glorious sounding makes it conducive to be the ending of a great mix CD, although to some professional CD mixers, this choice might seem a little cliché.  Regardless, it is important to end the mix CD as strong as you started it, if not stronger, in a vainglorious way if at all possible. I am hard-pressed to think of a more epic sounding song than “Jupiter.” (If you haven’t heard it, listen to it! It rocks!)

2. The songs must flow well! Each and every song on my mix CD must blend reasonably well into the next. If you notice my selection above, I would argue that some of my choices are just pure genius, in particular, the transition from Radiohead’s “Street Spirit” into “Mexico.” Both are guitar-picked songs, and both sound like they are in a similar key). By the way, it’s always good for the next song’s first note to either be the same as the previous song’s last note, or at least in the same key. Usually you can tell if you’re ear is good enough – though not necessary, it’s a nice touch.

This also works for similar instruments. Note how strings conclude Wilco’s “Jesus Etc.,” which blends very well into Holst’s strings at the start of “Jupiter. More often than not, a good mix CD has tracks that blend well together, either through similar instruments, keys, distortion, or any other similarity.

3. Having the same two bands in a row is almost always a tacky decision, defeating the purpose of having a mix CD. Similar to this is having two songs from the same band on the mix CD, though you can get away with this more often. If you opt to do this, make sure that these songs showcase different styles for the band. For example, to use Radiohead again as an example, I could pick “Exit Music,” a nice acoustic number by them, and accompany this with “Backdrifts,” a mostly electric song by them using strange chord progressions.

4.  Try not to have all your songs have a similar feel, musicality, or theme. This also defeats the purpose of making a mix CD. The challenge of making an awesome mix CD comes with having plenty of variety form different bands, but still making it flow logically. An exception to this rule is if you’re making a “greatest hits” CD of a certain band, or an eighties themed post-punk CD, or a childhood guilty pleasures CD.

5.  Try to start lighthearted and happy before getting more serious. Try also to end on a light note, so the listener goes away feeling good. It’s the same with writing a book. There needs to be a hook, but it also has to end well or the reader will feel cheated. It’s the same with a great mix CD. Ask yourself: what do I want the listener to feel from the first notes of the first song? And what do I want them to walk away with? Like a good book, save all the heavy conflict, breakups, and drama for the middle. While I didn’t really have the foresight to do it with my mix CD above, try to have songs following your depressing songs that are sort of an answer to them in a positive way, thus making the sun shine over a dark and weary land, so to speak. Notice how in my example of a mix CD, I’ve incorporated all my heavy and depressing songs toward the CD’s middle. Notice how blatantly happy my last track is…I mean, the word “jollity” is in the song’s title! And the happiness of the sickly sweet Starlight Mints song speaks for itself.

6. The sixth rule is the hardest of all – don’t be so rule-bound! If all your mix CD’s follow a formula, than this, too, means that they aren’t a truly mix CDs. There has to be some sort of randomness to it. And keep in mind that once you get better, you’ll learn how to bend and break the rules at the right moments, thus becoming a Mozart or John Coltrane of making mix CDs.

I hope this essay has helped enlighten you on how to make an awesome mix CD. Next time, when you’re at a loss for what to put after that weird TV on the Radio song or just why your mix CD isn’t flowing right, I hope you’ll remember these rules and right your paths on the road of CD mixdom!

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Concert Review: The Starlight Mints

Monday, April 27, 2009

[I know this is lame, but I’m just posting something I wrote for my school paper. You can find the original article here.]

The Starlight Mints contributed their pop-like and rather strange brand of indie rock to the Norman Music Festival Saturday night – and for me – were the highlight of the entire festival.

The concert really started moving with their third song “Rhino Stomp,” which – like few other songs I’ve heard – is able to conjure perfectly the image of its title.

For me, I get this image of a rhino stomping around. Being the Starlight Mints, it was pink rhino tromping around in a candy store. But instead of it being a scary picture, it was a strangely happy one.

The music from last night’s Starlight Mints’ concert was highly addicting. After you sit through the first two songs, you’re hopelessly hooked and converted into a Starlight Mints fanboy – or fangirl.

I took two Starlight Mints virgins to the main stage early, in order to get a good spot, telling them nothing more than they were like “a candy-coated, psychedelic pixies.”

It was fun to turn around and see their stunned faces after being rocked by the Mints waves of saccharine-laden notes. But after that shock dissipated, they could enjoy the sickeningly sweet music.

After the concert, I had the “Tra-la-la-la” from “Pumpkin” stuck in my head for hours on end. Combined with dancing puppets from side windows, huge bouncing balls, interpretive dancers weaving their way through the crowd, and singer Marian Love Nuñez’s strange use of a traffic cone to sing through and gesticulate with, last night’s concert series was among the weirdest I’ve been to, if not the weirdest – a quality added to by the concert-goers as much as the music.

The next highlight of the concert came with “Eyes of the Night” off the Starlight Mint’s newest album, “Drowaton.”

When played live, it scares listeners with its trademark scream – not to mention the scariness it imbued when Allan Vest started singing about “cookie monsters” and “screaming motorcycles.” But fortunately, the happy melody kept the lyrics from being scarier than they could have been, and no one was trampled in a madness to flee the scene.

By this point, my friends were fully converted, which is quite a feat as one is a punk/metal person. For this person, I was a little worried that the Mints’ happy candy spell would fail to sucker him in.

The band closed with a few oldies, including “Popsickle,” off their EP of the same name released in 2001, an admittedly strange song of which I’m not a huge fan. But thankfully, they closed with their two of their lead tracks off their first album, “The Dream That Stuff Was Made Of.”

“The Bandit” has to be one of the catchiest songs I’ve ever heard, and I’ve heard a lot of catchy songs in my day. Hearing it live was a real treat. “Submarine #3”was also a nice way to wrap up my favorite act from the Norman Music Festival.

If I were to have one nitpicky complaint it would be that they did not play “Valerie Flames,” my favorite Starlight Mints song. But for what it’s worth, The Starlight Mints played a fun and quirky show, like a rollercoaster ride through a land of gumdrop forests and ickily sweet pink lemonade rivers.

But unlike those things, with the Starlight Mints, I couldn’t get enough.

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Helmet – Meantime

Thursday, April 23, 2009
Meantime (1992)

Meantime (1992)

Meantime is an alternative classic, but few people sing praises over it. I don’t really know why. It’s a great album, and for alternative metal, it does a lot more for me than, say, Rage Against the Machine.

Though the metal is grinding, loud, and abrasive, it contrasts nicely with lyrics that are subdued and contemplative, and almost like poetry. My first experience with Helmet was, like most people, the song “Unsung.” Certainly its main riff is one of the most memorable in all alternative music. No one who listened to it honestly could deny its power and sway – it just sort of pounds through you and turns you into a grunge-like zombie, completely fixated on the notes’ unrelenting drone. Unlike the lyrics, the repeated riff is not complicated, which is part of its genius. Perhaps its basicness taps into the baseness of all of us.

“Unsung” is probably the best song on the album, but the rest isn’t just filler. Though the songs do have a tendency to sound the same, and everytime I get to about track six, I feel a tendency to turn it off.

Sure, Helmet probably won’t be one of the bands you mention if someone were to ask you to name ten alternative acts that changed music forever. But for Helmet, that really wan’t their bag. They where just about doing their own thing – making powerful, engaging music that wasn’t exactly pretty. And because it wasn’t pretty, it connects with some of us who can relate to that better than the blistering guitar solos offered by the likes of Pearl Jam or other more “talented” acts.

Despite their similarities to other bands, Helmet were uniquely their own. Their juxtaposition of noise, hardcore, metal, and alternative make for an interesting listen that can’t help but overwhelm you with its power. Admittedly, Helmet and Meantime are things I have to be in the mood for. But when I want something powerful, confusing, and almost grunge-like except a little harder, or if I just want to take a trip back in time, then Meantime holds that slot.

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Coldplay – Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends

Monday, April 20, 2009
Viva la Vida or Death And All His Friends (2008)

Viva la Vida or Death And All His Friends (2008)

To me, this is Coldplay at their best. I’m not even a Coldplay fan, really, and a lot of songs on this album don’t really do it for me. But where they do get it right Coldplay have done some of their very best work here, when they stop trying to be experimental and concentrate on crafting a solid britpop song.

The highlight of the album for me is “Lost!’ though many would make a case for “Violet Hill” or “Viva la Vida.” It’s the case that their singles are their best songs on here, the rest being merely so-so.

I gave this a listen all the way through for the first time last night, having only heard their singles on the radio or friend’s rooms or whatnot. Some of it was pretty hard to sit through, like the big slump from “Lost!” until I was eagerly awaiting the first staccato string strains of “Viva la Vida.” After this it slumped off again, and the version I got had a piano rendition of “Lost,” which was nice to close, though not really necessary.

All in all Viva la Vida is a decent album. There are bands I prefer to Coldplay, definitely, but they are fun while they last, until you just get bored of them.

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Porcupine Tree – Deadwing

Saturday, April 18, 2009
Deadwing (2005)

Deadwing (2005)

From the first time I listened to this album it felt so innately familiar, like I heard all these songs before. This is definitely not a bad thing, in this case.

Every one of these songs are great and add something to the album, which I can’t really say for In Absentia. Certainly some are weaker than others, but every song shines here.

It starts hard with the nealy ten minute “Deadwing.” Next the pop-metallish “Shallow.” Then my favorite song on the album, “Lazarus,” is very pretty and spacey. It has a piano background which really make the song tender and warm while maintining its progressive elements.

Deadwing is my second Porcupine Tree album and it just makes me want to explore the band further. This is the beginning of a great and new obsession, I’m sure.

“Arriving Somewhere but Not Here” is just an epic twelve minute thrill ride. “Mellotron Scratch” is also good. I could just go through the rest of the songs and devote a sentence to each of them, but there really is no point. I’d just be repeating myslf.

I’m not really an expert on Porcupine Tree, but this album makes me want to be one. It’s very surprisng to me that they are not as popular. I know, there are a lot of people who know about Porcupine Tree, but I guess what I’m saying is if you were to walk up to someone at my unversity and ask them if they’ve heard of them, maybe one of fifty would say “yes.” As such, Porcupine Tree seem to be a secretly amazing band that only a lucky few will ever hear about.

Deadwing is fun. While In Absentia has some better songs, Deadwing seems more consistent. I’ll probably review Fear of a Blank Planet soon.

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Beatles Remastered Box Set to be Released

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

This sounds really cool. It’s set to sell September 9.

Usually I’m not much for buying CD’s I already own, but being a Beatles fan, this might be worth it, depending on the price. I can’t see it going for too cheap, though.

As far as boxed sets go, it’s really cool to see the entire Beatles discography rematered, which has been lacking up until now. I could see this making a great gift for anyone interested in the Beatles, as well as for hardcore fans.

Basically, Apple and EMI have remastered all the Beatles albums, including their American release of Magical Mystery Tour but sans Yellow Submarine. They are offering two boxed sets, one, as I understand, being mono and the other stereo.

There won’t be any outtakes – as far as the article says, it’s just the albums. It’s due to come out this September.

I might get this, if the price is not too steep.

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Pixies – Doolittle

Sunday, April 5, 2009
Doolittle (1989)

Doolittle (1989)

Springtime’s in the air in Oklahoma. Sort of. Which means windows come down and the tunes get cranked up, cause I’m that “cool guy” who does that, who people think he thinks that they think he’s cool because he plays his music loud, but in reality he knows he’s a huge dork, hopefully of the loveable kind, but most likely not.

To get to the point, I really like listening to Doolittle when the weather is perfect. Like, seventy two degrees (Fahrenheit), sunny, a certain smell of freshness in the air unique to early spring in the South, where often listening to a record as ecletic as Doolittle is liable to get you shot (not really), that is, if you don’t get sucked up a tornado first.

I love living where I am, especially around this time of year, where I am witness to thunderstorms galore. Doolittle to me is the perfect spring album. Upbeat, really crazy, and can get your blood pumping – maybe we don’t need that tornado. Certainly, Doolittle is one of the most fun albums I own.

The sheer bliss of “Debaser” and all the crazy yelling and words that seem to be in German. Love it. Also, “Wave of Mutilation” is absolutely amazing. “Here Comes Your Man” has to have the catchiest guitar riffs of all of indie music – maybe all time. Maybe I’m just a loser, but the rest of the album seems to drop in quality, but for the Pixies that still means amazing. The rest of the songs sort of seem to flow together – fun to listen to, though I don’t know their names. They’re fun though.

Well, I shall be “cranking” this bad boy of an album out for the next week or so, or until I fancy something else. Or even Surfer Rosa, which is fun stuff too. Always, of course, windows down.